That was the message a spirited, thousand-plus crowd delivered — to New York and D.C. politicians, to imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and to all those who support building a mosque near Ground Zero — during a three-hour rally today that began near the proposed site for the mosque and ended with a short march to Ground Zero.
The rally, sponsored by the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero, drew a chanting, hollering, flag-waving crowd. Many participants carried signs, their messages ranging from photos of loved ones to “SHARIA” (written in blood-red dripping ink) to pleas for moderation (“If You Want To ‘Bridge The Gap’ Then Show Some Sensitivity And Put A Gap Between This Mosque & Ground Zero”). Protesters included 9/11 families and friends, New York police and firefighters, and bikers who had just completed a trek that began in Shanksville, Pa., and included a stop at the Pentagon.
Speaker after speaker testified to the importance of the Ground Zero site to Americans. “If we want a nation of peace,” said city councilman Dan Halloran, whose cousin died on 9/11, “then peace comes with understanding. And they need to understand that this is sacred ground to New Yorkers.”
A strain of populism was evident among the protestors. Several speakers mentioned the ruling class. One man held a sign bearing these words: “As An Out of Work Union Carpenter, I Rather [Would] Starve Than Earn a Bloody Check From That Trophy To 9/11 Terrorist[s].” Tom Trento, director of the Florida Security Council, mentioned his 87-year-old Teamster father, who had delivered scaffolding to the construction site of the World Trade Center. “[My dad] told me that no self-respecting Teamster in the brotherhood will deliver a bag of cement to that rat’s nest,” said Trento.
The participants’ views on Islam varied. Some seemed to believe that no moderate version of Islam exists. “These people, this Sharia people, are out to get you. They’re out to convert you. . . . They want to have their own law in our country,” warned actor Tony Lo Bianco. “In the Muslim world, a moderate believes that you can take down America without violence,” said Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America. “You can do it by infiltrating their colleges and universities. You can do it by infiltrating the media, government, [and] cultural institutions, and you can bring down the house of the infidel from within.”
Not everyone took such a hard line. Most of the individuals I spoke to were fine with the mosque being built, just as long as it wasn’t in such close proximity to Ground Zero. “We’re not opposed to Islam. We’re not opposed to a mosque, because, obviously, there are mosques within a five-block radius of the World Trade Center,” said Maureen Bosco, whose son Richard died on 9/11. “We just feel it’s too close.”
There was excitement about November 2; several speakers reminded politicians they would be held accountable. The protestors lauded Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) and former mayor Rudy Giuliani — “rumor has it . . . that if [the imam] is walking down this street and Rudy Giuliani sees him, he’s going to kick his a**,” said Trento, launching the crowd into cheers of “Rudy! Rudy!” — and vigorously bashed President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Halloran ripped into Bloomberg, saying, “I apologize on behalf of those [politicians] who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to call it like it is. Every New Yorker who was there that day but Michael Bloomberg gets it.” And for anyone who believes this controversy shouldn’t have spiraled into a national issue, Burlingame had a message: “This is not a local issue. And we know the State Department doesn’t think it’s a local issue because they put Michael Bloomberg’s speech on their website for the Muslim world to read.”
But for all the raucous energy of the speakers, much of the underlying sentiment appeared sorrowful. That was the message of signs: “Don’t Dishonor My Son’s Grave”; “Respect + Honor For Our Loved Ones. May They Rest in Peace”; “No Mosque In The Ground Zero Area! Preserve The Dignity Of Our Loved Ones Killed Here on 9/11.” The woman holding the “Respect + Honor” sign was Mary Monahan, who lost her brother and her cousin on 9/11. “It’s clearly been documented that remains have been found on rooftops of buildings three, four blocks away from the Trade Center, and this is a grave site,” she said. “And it shouldn’t be disrespected.”
Charlie Bonar, a firefighter who was at the World Trade Center site the afternoon of 9/11, agreed that the planned location for the mosque was too near. “I lost 75 to 100 guys that I knew personally. And it’s not only that. It’s all the good people who went to work that day and never came home because of religious zealots,” he said. “This is like a graveyard to most of the people. And I think that’s why people are so adamant about this.”
Echoing him was an NYPD officer, Henry, who said: “I think they have every single right to build a mosque. Constitutionally, I back them up 100 percent. But common sense comes in. Is it the right thing to do? We just ask that it be a little farther away, that’s all. Let us cry. Let us hug each other quietly. This is our cemetery. It’s America’s cemetery. Let us be.”
Most likely, the mosque’s advocates will not grant 9/11 families this wish — thus far, they have shown no willingness to consider another location. The organizers of today’s protest, however, pledged to hold another rally on October 11 if plans for the mosque continue.